El Nino

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This season’s El Nino weather pattern was predicted to be the strongest in decades. However, besides one wet week Arizona has seen nothing but sunshine and record-breaking heat. Arizona State University climatologist Randy Cerveny will give us an El Nino update.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll try to find out why this winter's El Nino has become an El Busto. And Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs will join us in studio. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."


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Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld the EPA's disapproval of the Arizona's regional haze plan involving a Northern Arizona coal fired power plant. The court rules the EPA's actions complied with the Clean Air Act and air pollution standards. The court also ruled that the plan to update pollution controls also complies with the Clean Air Act. And Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said his employees will no longer use iPhones. Apple's refusal to unlock a phone used by terrorists puts Apple on the side of the terrorists and not the side of public safety.
It was billed as a super massive El Nino weather pattern, an indication that rainfall this winter would be quite a bit above normal, so what happened? Here to talk about it, Randy Cerveny, public enemy No. 1. What happened to El Nino?


Randy Cerveny: It's actually still going on. There are certain weather things happening around the world linked to El Nino. We had one of the worst cyclones hit Fiji just this last week, probably in part due to El Nino. Just so happens we have not been getting the nice effects.


Ted Simons: Why have we not been getting the effects?


Randy Cerveny: Normally during an El Nino the storm track goes from California to Arizona. Now it's going from Northern California to Utah and missing us. If we look at the last 30 days of rainfall, what we will find is that we are dry.


Ted Simons: I think we have a map of the last 30 days of rainfall. And I believe the map is relatively self-explanatory. The dark stuff means, good luck fella.


Randy Cerveny: Exactly. You can see Mexico, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona are some of the driest places in the last 30 days.


Ted Simons: The areas to the north that got precipitation, does that mean snow in the High Country? Or is it still a warm weather pattern?


Randy Cerveny: Well, they have gotten some snow but not nearly as much as they had hoped for. The problem is that the storm tracks are right now way far north, places like Oregon and Washington have been getting more of the rain.


Ted Simons: Last La Nina, that's just normal.


Randy Cerveny: That's exactly right.


Ted Simons: So this is the last 30 days. No great shakes there. Prognostication? The next three months, do we have a map for that, as well?


Randy Cerveny: The climate prediction center, the group that makes these long term forecasts is very hopeful the spring will be pretty darn wet. This ridge over the top of us forcing the storms north is going to break down within the next couple weeks we hope. When it does it should allow a lot more moisture and storms to develop over Arizona.


Ted Simons: The deeper the green the more rain?


Randy Cerveny: The deeper the green the more likely we will have rain.


Ted Simons: Likely, okay. So the recent above average temperatures making all this worse, is that El Nino related?


Randy Cerveny: In the Pacific it is. El Nino is a Pacific situation. When we have really hot waters in the Pacific Ocean, that's when we have El Nino. That's about every seven years.


Ted Simons: But what about us? We've been having warmer than average temperatures. Is that related to El Nino?


Randy Cerveny: No, our hot temperatures have been the result of a large high pressure system. If you have a ridge over the top of you you're going to be hot.


Ted Simons: Is it typical for El Niños to not be typical?


Randy Cerveny: I think this one goes in the record books as a nontraditional type of El Nino. The weather patterns we have are some of the most complex things we can study. We matched the human genome; we haven't mapped all of weather yet.


Ted Simons: We could legitimately have a gully washer every day in March and April, correct?


Randy Cerveny: Well, what they are forecasting is we're going to have above normal precipitation.


Ted Simons: Right.


Randy Cerveny: But remember, as we go into springtime our normal precipitation starts to go down, as well. We're going to have rains but not necessarily going to be gully washers. They are going to be big hopefully soaking types of rains.


Ted Simons: It's a possibility, the possibility is still there for April even into May, rainfall?


Randy Cerveny: Yes, yes.


Ted Simons: You mentioned El Nino; most people are familiar with that. So the warming of the water means the water warms temperatures and weather accommodates. Global warming: Water around the world is warming, rising and warming. Is that affecting the warming waters of El Nino, and thus affecting the impact of El Nino on weather? Do you understand what I'm saying?


Randy Cerveny: Yeah. One of the things about warming waters is they expand. As you have warming waters you're going to have rising sea levels. A recent study came out that shows that sea levels are rising at increasing rates more than anything we've seen in the last 3,000 years. Again, the problem is that there are so many complex things going on in our system, to say all of this is the result of one particular thing is pretty difficult. But the evidence is starting to mount up that more and more changes are the result of things we are doing to our climate system.


Ted Simons: The reason I ask is, if the warming water off of Peru or Chile or whatever it is over there, if that's so much warmer than the other water, but now the other water is warm, as well, El Nino is not so warm anymore.


Randy Cerveny: And remember, there was something in the fall called The Blob, a mass of warm water off the coast of San Diego. It does tell us there are a lot of strange things going on in our ocean systems that are not related to El Nino, we still have to figure out what's going on.


Ted Simons: Is what's going on now any impact at all on our monsoon?


Randy Cerveny: No, no. The stuff here, research suggests stuff going on right now doesn't have a big impact on what our monsoon is going to be like.


Ted Simons: Does it mean we're set for a La Nina next winter?

Randy Cerveny: The latest advisories that the National Weather Service are putting out do suggest that. The models they run are suggesting that El Nino is weakening, it'll be gone probably by the summertime and we'll get more into a La Nina pattern by next fall into winter.


Ted Simons: If we get into a La Nina pattern next fall and winter, is La Nina going to be no rain forever?


Randy Cerveny: When we toss the dice, normally a La Nina situation is dry. Under El Nino, normally you're going get wet, it just happened to come out dry.


Ted Simons: The bottom line is El Nino is still there, we could still have it, we could still get a bunch of rain. So far it's been disappointing, hasn't it?


Randy Cerveny: Last time we were so excited about the January rains that we had. I was expecting February was going to be something similar. So yes, it's really a big disappointment for me.


Ted Simons: All right, good to have you here and we'll try to get you back one more time before El Nino is adios.


Randy Cerveny: Thank you.


Ted Simons: All right, thank you.


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Randy Cerveny: Arizona State University Climatologist

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